Hot Potatoes

You, Me and Us: Who makes Europe and Why?

Mario Aller San Millán │marioallersanmillan@gmail.com

mario2

Europe will live or will perish as it arrives or not to take conscience of itself“− Salvador de Madariaga

Two interesting pieces of news concerning Europe overlapped in this second half of 2012. To my great dismay, the rumours of the decrease in the budget for the Erasmus Programme (a slow-coming death, sentence by starvation for some) have not raised enough protests and anger. I’m angry, and the reason for my anger is based on the fact that the raid on this one programme is a direct attack on the waterline of the construction of Europe. The second news concerning the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU for having contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe for over six decades and for representing “fraternity between nations” does not comfort me at all. I agree that it is indeed something great, but for me this award has a second reading. I think this Prize was not awarded for how well Europe has done and is doing, but rather to remind Europe that until now it has done well and that it should keep on this track. It’s a reminder of its past, not a praise of its present. It can be seen as one of those Academy Honorary Awards (Oscars), that they usually give at the end of someone’s career for their ‘exceptional career achievements’. During these years in which Europe performed so well, it has changed from being the object we fought for to being the common fulcrum for progress. We Europeans have spent centuries trying to kill each other (and killing others in our way, some may add), but we have overcome this, and today the very idea of a conflict between us sounds funny as we enjoy the longest period of peace in our history.

Early this year I read an interview with Umberto Eco, he said “…the United States needed a civil war to unite properly. I hope that culture and the [Single] Market will do the same for us…”. I agree with him, but not completely, because I think that while the Single Market and other like-instruments are important, the crucial element here is Culture. Culture surrounds us; it is not just something enclosed in a museum or written in a book; it is Us, how we live and how we behave. We cannot agree on a better definition of what it is to be European than it is a common feeling of sharing; not just of one thing but of many immaterial ‘somethings’, for example rights and values. Considered separately, none is strong enough to set harmony among us, but the proper combination of them can attain it. Those ‘somethings’ do not appear by themselves; they come to us because we feel we have something in common, because there is a shared feeling of belonging to something that is, in fact, alive. Some might argue that culture is different in different parts of Europe and so we cannot speak of a single ‘European Culture’ but cultures, of one Set of values but sets… as many as there are nations in Europe. I believe that those plurals are to be overcome and that those differences (or ‘diversities’ as the EU motto says) come from different appreciations of our past.

The common past we share is packed together in the ‘History of Europe’; and no one can boast about history as Europe. Usually compared with that of the USA, it is not worse nor better, but substantially different. While Americans have their Exceptionalism (counter-mirroring our ‘normality’), we have our originality. There hasn’t been in history any process of integration or assimilation similar to that currently in Europe, and it is still in progress. Until now, it has been a process of integration, not of assimilation; and it should remain as such but pivoting on the common characteristics we have, and exchange programmes such as Erasmus play a crucial role in this.

Some may say that the time of Europe is over, that nowadays Europeans can barely do anything together, nor will they be able to in the future; that the story of past wars and subsequent reconciliations no longer work to unite Europeans, especially for the younger generations. I cannot agree with this as it leads to the thinking that we ignore our past, and therefore it does not provide us with any common points for building a future together. I say that Erasmus and other exchange programmes (such as Comenius and Leonardo) are not creating our European conscience, because we already have it, but strengthening it in order to achieve a more united Europe in the future. They do so by creating common experiences, experiences of sharing and understanding. We are different from our grandparents’ generation: those who initiated the European project had gone through experiences of the terrible disasters of the war and interwar periods, and they learnt from that. We are given the possibility of living in another European country, we take it, and hence we have the opportunity to discover, understand and enjoy it, not to just be tourists visiting. While our grandparents felt the call of need to unite by empathy in destruction, we feel the call of common sense to keep and deepen this union by empathy in marriage. This is important, especially at a time when some of the values I have referred to have been damaged, some of the rights have been threatened to be diminished, and the learnt lessons we inherited seem to have been forgotten. This might help us to find the solution for the present (identity) crisis which is threatening the idea of Europe and its legitimacy.

Nowadays the world is changing, so Europe is changing and our countries of origin with it. We, the youth, do not want to be left behind, nor aside, so we change too, we are not restrained by nationhood like our parents were. Everyone needs an aim to live, and ours can be a hope, a hope that in some years, as Stephen Wolff said, “Europe will be run by leaders with a completely different socialization from those of today” with less national quarrels, less Brussels-bashing and more unity. These leaders will be Us!

Concerning the title and the subheading, Europe is made of Us and therefore we are Europe, but we are not (or don’t want to be) conscious of it, so therefore we ignore that what is at stake is ourselves, not a foreign entity. Once we understand that, Europe will be able to advance and succeed, otherwise the distance among us will continue to grow until the call of need is felt again. I hope my dream will be shared and will become real and, of course, that we may stay forever young (at least for Europe and of mind). My thoughts may be utopian because I still hope that my illusion becomes real, but this is because I trust in Us. ISN’T IT TIME TO WAKE UP? ARE WE ON IT?

marioMario Aller San Millán, Contributing writer
I was born and raised in Northern Spain. I always studied the least I could of that I was told in order to get a pass. In Euroculture, I have been in Uppsala and Bilbao. My interests are everything with the adjective European. From History (which I love), to music (which I enjoy nonstop), to Politics (to which I perhaps pay too much attention), to Economics (with which I have a love-hate relationship), to languages (for which I am a hopeless case), but maybe above all the peoples and their customs (that I try understand). Apart from that, travelling and sports are my main drugs.

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